This year’s slate of Super Bowl ads began to look past the pandemic with real optimism, offering lighthearted moments of joy and inspiration for viewers. Travel companies came off the bench to celebrate the cautious return of tourism, while messages of health and sustainability were delivered with empowerment rather than doom and gloom. Many small business tools and platforms made their Super Bowl debuts to vitalize the growing ranks of micropreneurs, and, unsurprisingly, the metaverse and what it portends was a major focus.

Read on for the key themes from this year’s Super Bowl ads.

Micropreneurial gold rush

Business optimization platforms, while not the sexiest of Super Bowl advertisers, are finding a growing audience thanks to the continued rise of micropreneurs, who are turning passion projects into careers. 17 million new businesses will be launched in 2022, according to Intuit’s 2021 New Business Insights report, and will need the tools to help them run smoothly.

SquareSpace targeted small business owners in a spot featuring Zendaya. “Through this campaign, we hope to inspire the entrepreneurial spirit of a generation of creators that are building brands, and selling the things they're passionate about,” said Anthony Casalena, Founder and CEO of SquareSpace. “We aim to give them all the tools they need to grow a thriving online business.”

Several business productivity platforms made their Super Bowl debuts. Monday.com, a work operating system that helps organizations of any size create the tools and processes they need to manage every aspect of their work, launched its first-ever Super Bowl ad this year. ClickUp, which sells project management software, also made a big bet on its first Super Bowl spot. And Intuit’s Quickbooks promoted its financial resources for new businesses in its first Super Bowl ad. “Our ad celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit and reveals the range of emotions that come with starting a small business,” said Dan McCarthy, senior vice president and chief business officer at Intuit, in a statement. “We’re excited to have this incredible opportunity to inspire the millions of new entrepreneurs who will be watching the game.”

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SquareSpace's Sally’s Seashells Big Game Commercial 2022, courtesy of YouTube.

Travel returns

After nearly two years of lockdowns and border closures, travel is picking up again—and travel companies made a strong showing during this year’s Super Bowl, hoping to capture viewers’ pent-up wanderlust as the world slowly reopens.

Booking.com aired its first-ever Super Bowl ad featuring Idris Elba. Turkish Airlines returned after last advertising at the 2020 Super Bowl with a spot featuring Morgan Freeman. And Expedia aired a spot featuring Ewan McGregor, which kicked off a 20-trip giveaway. “We committed to the Super Bowl spot seven months ago,” said Jon Gieselman, president of Expedia Brands. “I’m not a ‘do a Super Bowl ad for the sake of it’ kind of guy, so I wanted to make sure there was a ‘why’ behind it. And there is—it’s a big vote of confidence in 2022 as the year of the return to travel.”

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Booking.com's 2022 big game ad: Idris Elba says things, courtesy of YouTube.

Notable nostalgia

Nationally-loved series and sitcom stars reunited through new branded cameos.

Scrubs stars Zach Braff and Donald Faison sang a musical ‘Scrubs' reunion for T-Mobile in an extra slot for the brand to promote its home internet. ‘Community’ co-stars Joel McHale and Ken Jeong argued over the best way to enjoy a handful of Planter’s Mixed Nuts. The Soprano’s intro got a remake in a Chevy Silverado ad: a shot-for-shot scene parallels Tony Soprano driving his 1999 Chevy Suburban with his daughter Meadow, actress Jamie Lynn-Sigler, driving the first-ever all-electric Chevy Silverado in present time. The clip pulls from themes in the show and scenes from the original opening credits, even reintroducing an adult A. J. Soprano into the commercial while Meadow charges her car.

Just after the halftime show, Jim Carrey reprised his role as Chip Douglas from the 1996 movie “The Cable Guy” for Verizon’s home internet ad. Verizon CCO and SVP Andrew McKechnie told Adweek that they hoped “when the viewers see it, it will feel like a great story both from a cultural standpoint and, in terms of 25 years later, what The Cable Guy ultimately represents." Dr. Evil, played by Mike Meyers, also returned to the big screen, reprising a scene from the Austin Powers franchise for GM’s electric cars ad.

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Chevrolet: The First-Ever All-Electric Chevy Silverado – New Generation (The Sopranos), courtesy of YouTube.​

Crypto-bowl

Crypto ads dominated time slots throughout the game Sunday, as new and old brands promoted their growing offerings.

Social investing platform eToro advertised for the first time, visualizing realistic trading chats and investment conversations through a floating community of investors and traders. Cryptocurrency exchange platform FTX spent its ad trying to convince Larry David that crypto was worth investing in, and Coinbase’s QR code, bouncing around screens like an old Atari video game, was so popular that it’s app crashed. Even Crypto.com grabbed a slot, where Lebron James coaches his younger self with the brand’s previously used mantra: Fortune favors the brave.

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eToro's Big Game Ad: Flying Your Way, courtesy of YouTube.

Sustainability is central

Sustainability remained a central topic across categories for this year’s ads. Automakers continue to lean heavily into fuel-less cars—ads for electric vehicles (EVs) outnumbered those for fuel-powered cars. Among the EV spots were Polestar, Volvo's all-electric offshoot, Chevrolet, GM, BMW, Kia and Hyundai. And, alongside ads for vehicles, EV charging brand Wallbox aired its first spot.

Hellmann’s is tackling food waste, encouraging viewers to “make taste, not waste.” “It’s a food-focused sustainability story,” Beth Avellini, executive creative director at WPP/Wunderman Thompson who led the creative charge for the campaign, tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. But the campaign goes beyond trying to convince viewers of the brand’s own sustainable efforts—as has been the case in many sustainability-focused ads in the past. “We wanted to offer up solutions and ways to save your food—which comes through in a fun, light-hearted and entertaining way in the Super Bowl spot—but then we have a whole program that lives beyond the Super Bowl,” Avellini explains. “It goes beyond just selling their mayonnaise; it’s a bigger purpose.”

And Salesforce’s “#TeamEarth” ad took indirect shots at Silicon Valley darlings Meta and SpaceX for looking to new worlds when this world needs saving. “While the others look to the metaverse and Mars, let’s stay here and restore ours,” Matthew McConaughey said in the spot. “We have enough fluffy razzle-dazzle in the world—we need to get real and focus on saving the planet, helping our society, helping our communities and small business,” Salesforce chief marketing officer Sarah Franklin told the New York Times.

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Hellmann's: Mayo Tackles Food Waste, courtesy of YouTube.

More metaverse

The metaverse was a popular theme for many brands, tech and otherwise.

Bud Light revealed their first NFT launch: the N3XT Collection, comprised of over 12,000 beer and entertainment-themed tokens that earn the buyer’s entrance into the virtual world of Bud Light NEXT, exclusive voting rights and insight into future brand decisions. Meta’s ad for Quest 2 headset revives an outdated animatronic dog from an old arcade and brings him into the metaverse with a Quest 2 headset, where he can happily dance once again. Meta’s message for the ad? “Old friend. New fun.” Miller Lite opened its own bar in the metaverse ahead of game day, where viewers could interact and view the exclusive ad in a unique virtual world. “Meta Lite Bar” is still open for play on Decentraland, with in-app purchase options for a full experience.

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Meta’s Quest 2 ad: Old friends. New fun, courtesy of YouTube.

Ads for Health

An unusual topic for a Super Bowl ad, health brands tapped into the space after heightened consumer focus on health and wellness.

Cue Health debuted their Integrated Care Platform: a smart home diagnostic system, with a COVID test used as an example. Planet Fitness aired a clip focusing not solely on fitness and exercise, but how its establishments can better its customers’ overall wellness, promoting better sleep, productivity, and mental acuity from regular exercise.

Hologic teamed up with Mary J. Blige to promote its preventative health offering for women, harping on the importance of regular health screenings for breast and cervical cancer. Steve MacMillan, Hologic’s chairman, president and chief executive officer told Adweek that the company “wanted to remind [women] that no matter how many responsibilities they navigate each day, nothing is more important than finding time to prioritize their health.”

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Meet Cue: A New Smart Device for Your Health, courtesy of YouTube.

Euphoric ads

Brands tapped into the current of unbounded optimism that is setting the tone for 2022, serving up whimsical moments designed to spark joy.

Vroom aired what the New York Times called a “mini-musical,” featuring a Broadway-esque song and dance number from “La La Land” dance choreographer Mandy Moore. The spot was designed to be “upbeat and fun,” Vroom’s chief marketing officer Peter Scherr told CNBC.

T-Mobile also took inspiration from Broadway, with a parody of “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story starring Donald Faison and Zach Braff. “It's just a great, humorous way to highlight these pain points that customers have,” Dow Draper, executive vice president of emerging businesses for T-Mobile, told CNET. “It was fun for us to bring that out in a humorous way.”

Brands made a conscious effort to use humor and levity to offset the heaviness of the last two years. “We really thought about the zeitgeist at the moment—where is the country psychologically? And that affected the brief and the story that we wanted to tell,” Avellini tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. “People are exhausted. There’s been a lot of heaviness in the air for a long time with this pandemic, there was the intensity of the election, the Black Lives Matter movement, there’s so many things going on in our society and our world that were really heavy. And you could just see that there was a fatigue throughout the country and a desire to have fun, to hear something more lighthearted, to laugh. We really wanted to be part of that and make people smile.”

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Vroom's Official Big Game Commercial 2022: Flake the Musical, courtesy of YouTube.

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